Strawberries: June Bearers VS Everbearers

When we first started our berry patch, we planted several different varieties of berries. Very quickly, we realized which varieties were our favorites, and therefore we put all of our focus into those varieties. Lately though, our perspective has changed.

Strawberries- June Bearers VS Everbearers (2)

Early on, we realized that we like the June Bearers better than the Everbearers (Day Neurtal).

  1. You get a lot at once. Once the season is over, you can focus on other crops.
  2. They taste better…plain and simple.
  3. They are bigger. It take fewer large berries to fill up a container, increasing our overall yields. Plus the customer gets enticed by the size of the large berries. They are also less work when you are slicing them.

This strawberry season has gone a little different than in past year. The first big reason is because we have sold every single berry from our farm…no farmer’s markets, festivals, or roadside stands. This was a huge goal for us, and we are glad we reached it so quickly.

The only problem is that people aren’t always the most prepared for strawberry season. You go from one end of the spectrum to the other. Some customers begin calling in April wondering when they will be ready, and then others call after they are all gone and are upset they didn’t know. It doesn’t matter how much advertising you do, you never are going to be able to reach everyone. This has sparked a new idea to add to our business plan.

Strawberries are our staple crop. People LOVE them to eat fresh or cook with. They will drive for fresh strawberries…sometimes very long distances. And when they get here (because they want strawberries) they will often add on a little bit of something else, some blueberries, fresh salad greens, onions, etc. So we have decided to try to elongate our strawberry season by planting some Everbearers and early June Bearers.

Up until this year, planting early varieties of strawberries was not an option. Our best picking time was when school got out, and we just were not able to manage the farm while working other jobs. Now that Berry Man is working the farm full-time, we think adding the other varieties is a very good option to help us increase our strawberry production.

Everbearers do have some perks.

  1. They produce strawberries all summer long, and often into the fall. We hope this will entice people to continue to stop by to see if we have any, and maybe pick up a few more things from our farm.
  2. They produce about the same amount of berries as the June Bearers, just not all at once.
  3. They are fresh, and taste far better than store-bought.

My heart and taste buds are still into the June Bearers, but the idea of some strawberries all season long makes me happy. We do not anticipate being able to sell the large quantities like we can around Memorial Day, but we hope to be able to meet our customers’ desire to eat fresh strawberries all season long.

Which strawberry plants to you prefer? Why? Leave a comment below.

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How to Store Fresh Strawberries

One of the biggest questions I get during strawberry season is, “What should I do with my berries when I get them home?” People today are so used to getting their produce from the grocery story, that they really have no idea what to do with something that is actually fresh.

How to Store Fresh Strawberries

There are different options of storing your fresh berries, but ultimately it depends on what you want to do with them.

  1. Leave them out on the counter-This is my number one recommendation to all of my customers who plan to eat their strawberries plain. We sell all of our strawberries within 24 hours of being picked. If they are going to be eaten within 48 hours, they don’t need to go in the refrigerator at all. Just leave them at room temperature and eat them. This is the way they taste the best.
  2. Put them in the refrigerator-This will help your berries stay fresh the longest, but they just won’t taste as well as keeping them at room temperature.
  3. Slice them up and refrigerate them-Remember, once the skin is broken on a berry, the quality will begin to deteriorate. As soon as you cut into them, they won’t last as long as they would if you just put them in the refrigerator whole, but they sure are handier that way. If you choose to add sugar, that will help preserve them a little more as well.

What is your favorite way to store fresh strawberries? Leave your comments below.

Mid-April Homestead Happenings

Mid-April Homestead Happenings

A lot is happening on the homestead this spring.

Strawberries are coming through the winter straw. The plants look healthy and vibrant.

This year’s strawberry patch

If you search hard enough, you can find some strawberries blooming.

Rows of blueberries in full bloom

The bees are happily pollinating the blueberry blooms.

Our honeybee hive survived the winter. We are so excited to have these helpful workers on our homestead.

Rows of blackberries

The blackberries are opening.

Raspberries are popping through the ground. We are hoping to have a few to sell for the first time this year. 

What’s happening on your homestead this time of year? Are you as excited as I am? Share you comments below.

How We Expanded Our Homestead Without Buying Land

 

land revised (1).jpg

As our berry farm has grown, we have been contemplating how we are going to have enough land for proper crop rotation. All strawberry farmers know that long-term success evolves around the ability to rotate crops. We were left with the question, “How can we expand our ground without purchasing land?”

The Problem

Growing conventional strawberries requires proper crop rotation. Strawberries can stay in the same place for a few years, but as time goes on the berries get smaller, risk of disease increases, weeds get thicker, and insect damage increases.

Space is essential to start new strawberry patches and eliminate older ones.

When we started our berry patch, it seemed as though we had enough ground to do everything that we wanted to do, until we realized that we needed to keep our strawberry land separate from much of our vegetable land. You see, strawberries are not friends with many of the vegetables that we enjoy growing…tomatoes, beans, squash, potatoes, etc. They attract the same insects and diseases, therefore, it is best to keep them separated throughout your crop rotation.

We like to grow about an acre of strawberries. With crop rotation, that means we need about four acres of land devoted to strawberries (and cover crop during the rotational years). We already had about an acre planted in blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries. So, in order to continue keeping the quality of strawberries that we wanted, we needed a little more land.

Just purchasing a little more land is quite an obstacle. We really needed something within walking distance from our homestead so we could tend to it on a daily basis while watching the kids. Plus, the risk of theft with specialty crops increases greatly without constant surveillance.

We inquired with a few neighbors to see if they would sell an acre or two, but nobody was interested.

So we started thinking about a different way…

Our Solution

Clearing some pine trees from our own land seemed to be the best option. When our place was first built, this area was intended to be a Christmas tree farm. The trees just grew up and took over the area.

 

A before look from the east

Before clearing the trees, our new strawberries didn’t get quite as much sunshine.

 

Clearing pine trees from the west

After it was cleared, we planted cover crops to help rebuild the soil and reduce the possibility of erosion.

We kept a few pine trees in the front for some landscaping.

 

We also cleaned up the edge of our woods to bring in more sunlight to our existing field. This also gained us several more feet of farmable area.

What We Gained

Clearing our land gave us exactly what we needed. We now have more farmable land in order to handle our strawberry crop plans. Proper crop rotation will help us be sustainable with our berries in the future.

Now we have land exactly where we want it…right within our homestead.

Although we began clearing the trees ourselves, we did decide to hire a crew to clear the land. We felt our time was needed elsewhere continuing to build our business. Using our own tools, this would have taken all year. Hiring a crew with the appropriate equipment was still a substantial savings from purchasing land.

We are excited about all the possibilities we have with our new space. Our chickens have already been busy trying to rebuild the soil.

What was your biggest obstacle when beginning your homestead? Leave your comments below.

 

 

Why We Started a Berry Farm (Part 2)

When we planted our first blueberry bushes in 2012 we really weren’t sure how successful they were going to be. The more we talked to people about planting blueberries, the more stories we heard about locals trying to plant blueberries in their home gardens with little or no success.

While we were determined to figure out how to get the blueberries to produce, we knew it would be 5-7 years before they would reach full production.

Instead of just waiting until then, we needed to continue adding to our homestead.

Our Short-lived Tree Farm

With this in mind, we actually started our business plan as a tree farm, rather than a berry farm. That first year (around the time we planted 100 new blueberry bushes), we planted 1,000 Norway spruce seedlings. All of them were planted by hand, in open space on our land and in the woods.

We thought this could bring us some variety, but with the drought, all it brought us was 1,000 dead Norway spruce seedlings.

Water was an insurmountable challenge. All the trees needed to be watered by hand with watering buckets. The trees were even further from the water source than the blueberries.

It came down to the fact that we had to choose what to keep alive. The cost of the blueberry bushes and the potential profit years down the road resulted in us fighting for those little bushes instead of the trees.

Just a Few Strawberries

While I was so excited about those little blueberries growing in the field, my husband wanted to grow a few strawberries, just for us to eat. I went to the local gardening store and purchased 18 strawberry plants and put them at the edge of a field. I knew that we wouldn’t get many the first year, so I just planted them, watered them once and a while and forgot about them.

We decided not to even straw around them in the winter time. If they made it through the winter, they made it. If they didn’t we weren’t out but a few bucks. I figured we could try again another year, when the weather was more favorable, and I felt like I had more time to devote to them.

Besides, who would want to spend all that time bent over picking strawberries?

Strawberry SURPRISE!

The following spring, my husband took the day off from his other job to get caught up around the homestead. While he was evaluating what needed to be done, he noticed that the strawberries went a little crazy over the winter. There were runners rooted in everywhere!

So…he gets an idea…

By the time I got home from work, he had broken the sod and tilled up about half an acre with an 18″ hand tiller. Then he transplanted all of the new strawberry plants, enough to almost fill the area he tilled.

Screenshot 2016-01-08 at 7.43.34 PM - Edited

Our 18 strawberry plants turned into 125, with almost no day-to-day effort on our part!

We sold every strawberry we didn’t eat that season. A few people heard we had strawberries, and before we knew it we had more demand for than we could possibly fill.

This really got us thinking and evaluating all the time we were spending on the blueberries, irrigating, mulching, adjusting soil pH levels, and checking for nutrient deficiencies.

This was when we made the decision to go “all in” on strawberries, at least until our blueberries were producing. We ordered 2,000 strawberry plants to plant that summer. It takes a year before they really produce, so we were hopeful that by the following summer, we would have enough strawberries to be able to fill the demand in the area.

The First Sign

One day while we were planting some of the 2,000 strawberries we ordered, my husband stopped me and wanted to talk.

Apparently he had been praying for a sign that we were doing the right thing starting our berry farm. As he went out the door that morning, he asked the Lord to give him a sign that he was making the right decision to move forward with the business. We had no idea how we were going to make everything work.

That day he experienced his first direct answer to prayer. He was working on a planter for a local farmer. This farmer was unsuccessfully battling Stage 4 cancer. The two of them were talking about the work that needed to be done when all of a sudden the farmer grabbed him and said, “Boy, if there is something you are wanting to do, you better do it!” Then he went right back into the conversation.

This conversation was exactly the sign we were looking for. Following our own hearts and our Lord, we decided that a berry farm was exactly what we needed.

Want to learn more about why we started our berry farm? Click the link below.

 

 

 

 

Why We Started a Berry Farm (Part 1)

Why We Started a Berry Farm (Part 1)

Some of the questions we so often hear are, “Why on earth would you ever want to start a berry farm? Isn’t that A LOT of hard work? How do you have time? Why not just go to the store like everyone else? You pick all those berries…BY HAND?!?”

I could spend hours addressing each of these questions, but for today let me just start from the beginning.

Some Family Background

Since my husband and I got married, we have been discussing the possibility of starting a small business. Both of us had decent paying jobs, but were looking for something more. We wanted to share our skills and passions with our community and be able to work from home doing something that we love.

We just were not sure what that was yet.

We considered a bunch of possibilities, such as gunsmithing, leather working, opening a gun shop, etc, but none of those things seemed to be able to meet all of our needs.

Fast forward several years…

After surviving the child-bearing years, I revived my love for gardening. Our county had a small farmer’s market which I had considered growing for. The children were getting old enough to help a little…or at least not be much of a hindrance. Plus, I truly enjoy being outside working with my hands.

My garden…Before starting the Berry Patch

We had been working on becoming debt-free using Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover. Saving money was a daily discussion.

In our minds, money was the key to being able to establish the life that we wanted for our family. We thought if we had everything paid for, we would be able to start any kind of business that we wanted.

How It All Started

One sunny morning, my husband and I were drinking our morning coffee on the porch while discussing our hopes and dreams…Sounds amazing, doesn’t it?

This sunny, morning I just happened to be reading an article from Backwoods Home Magazine about Growing Blueberries as a Cash Crop. Blueberries are one of my favorite fruits, so I turned to my husband and asked him, “Do you have any idea how much money I spend each week on blueberries?”

I do all of the grocery shopping in my family, so I figured he had no idea.

I bought blueberries either fresh or frozen every week. I estimate that I spent at least $5-$10 per week just on blueberries. That’s $260-$520 per year…just in blueberries!!!

This was definitely something that was up our alley.

We started evaluating our space to see where we could put some blueberry plants for our family to enjoy. I thought I may be able to sell a few, but didn’t know how much interest there would be in this area.

Increasing Interest

Over the next few weeks, I began talking to my “foodie” friends from work about our plans to grow our own blueberries in the spring. Most of them questioned the ability to grow blueberries in our area. Many had tried to grow blueberries before with no success.

Blueberries require well-drained acidic soil…not the clay soil from our area, but we were up for the challenge. One thing about me is that if someone tells me that I can’t do something, I go on a mission to prove that I can.

Before I knew it, I had several people lined up who wanted to purchase their blueberries from us.

With this in mind, we decided to purchase 100 1.5 year-old blueberry bushes in the Spring of 2012. Buying bushes this young was not a huge monetary investment, and we figured it would be enough to make sure that we could get blueberries to grow in our area.

As soon as we made the decision, my husband was on the tractor with the plow trying to turn the sod the best he could. We knew it would need the winter for the sod to break down and be ready to plant in the spring.

The winter before we planted the blueberries

The First Season

We planed our first 100 blueberry bushes in March of 2012. We did not have the land ready for the bushes yet because we were not planning on getting them until much later. It was an early spring, so the company we purchased them from insisted that they go ahead and send them.

Because the soil was not properly prepared for planting, we decided to just spade the bushes in the ground. We figured we would try to prepare the soil around them at a later date when the ground dried up and we could get out there easier.

The spring was always a busy season for us. My husband worked in the agriculture industry, so spring and fall were his busiest times of year. I am a teacher, so my free time  is June-August.

Finding time to tend to those first berries was difficult. We would work all day on our full-time jobs, and then work until dark putting organic matter around the blueberries, monitoring our soil, and watering the plants.

We did not have any means or irrigating besides watering buckets. The berries were about 30 yards from the nearest water spigot, so it could take hours to water all 100 of them by hand.

That first year, we had to pull all of the blooms in order to help the roots produce a strong bush. I did keep a couple, just because I had to see if they would produce.

Berries on one first-year bush

As the summer progressed, the irrigating became more difficult. In the Midwest, 2012 is regarded as “The Year of the Drought.” Watering was never-ending.

At the year’s end, we had 60 of the 100 blueberry bushes survive. I thought that was pretty good considering the survival rate of the seedlings we purchased was only about 50%.

We beat the odds, even during a drought.

Want to learn more about why we started our berry farm? Click the link below.